What a revoltin’ development this is. As my colleague Jason Meserve has written, TechCrunch is reporting that Apple has rejected Google’s Google Voice app for the iPhone, as well as a couple of unofficial Google Voice apps which Apple says duplicate standard iPhone features. The logical assumption is that Apple did so because AT&T is nonplussed about Google providing phone services. But as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber says, maybe Apple just sees Google as an Apple rival who it doesn’t want leveraging the iPhone platform.
In either case, one thing’s clear: These apps aren’t being kept out of the App Store in the interest of iPhone owners. Apple’s monopoly on app distribution means that iPhone owners who haven’t unlocked their phones simply don’t have control over their devices.
In most respects that matter, the iPhone is by far the best mobile platform that has ever existed. I keep telling people that it proves that it’s not going to be very long until we think of a Personal Computer as something we carry in our pockets, and even laptops begin to look like antiques. But an iPhone that’s deprived of apps that Apple and/or carriers dislike for competitive reasons isn’t really a PC. It’s just a phone that offers a heck of a lot of applications. And the App Store, like the crummy, self-serving download stores that carriers have put on phones, is a walled garden–just a really big walled garden.
For thirty years, PC owners have had the final call on what software they used. That’s why many people run Apple software on Microsoft operating systems and Microsoft software on Apple operating systems. It’s why people get to run Firefox and Chrome on Windows, even though they duplicate features in Internet Explorer. If it hadn’t been this way for decades, the growth of the Windows and Mac platforms would have been horribly stunted, and the computers we use today would be a lot less useful and interesting. And if Apple maintains these policies moving forward, the iPhone platform will be horribly stunted, and iPhones will be a lot less useful and interesting than they might have been.
I keep coming back to what Steve Jobs told us at the Apple event that introduced the App Store last year:
Jobs said that Apple wouldn’t distribute porn or malicious apps or privacy-invading apps, and said that Apple’s interests and those of third-party developers were the same. The slide also mentioned “Bandwidth hogs,” which apparently meant stuff like SlingPlayer, and “Unforeseen,” which I assumed at the time referred to other applications that put iPhone owners at risk in one way or another. What he didn’t do is say that Apple would reject software that competed with Apple or AT&T offerings.
I’m looking on the bright side: Apple’s approval process is capricious enough that it’s entirely possible it’ll change its mind and permit Google Voice apps on the App Store at some point. A couple of months ago, the company approved the excellent e-reader Eucalyptus shortly after rejecting it. Doesn’t that establish a precedent for quiet undoing of bad decisions?